23 Oct2009


by Marketman


The fruit is a fresh quince. It was early Fall in New York and I noticed them for sale at a nearby market, so I bought a couple, if only to record it for this blog and its readers. Quince (Cydonia oblonga) is an almost pear-like looking fruit but with a skin color that is reminiscent of a golden delicious apple (and I gather the looks and shades can vary). It was once EXTREMELY common in parts of the Middle East and Southern Europe, as well as the continental United States. Elizabeth Schneider, in her brilliant book Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables describes it as having a “penetrating perfume, musky-wild as a tropical fruit, reminiscent of pineapple, guava, Bartlett pear, and apple…” Today, it is much harder to find quince, and even for me, I only know it as the main ingredient in membrillo, that wonderful Spanish paste/solid jelly that one slathers on bread and topped with its life partner an aged manchego cheese. It’s no wonder that my version of grainy guava jam, which struck me as a close contender for a Pinoy membrillo fake-out, was likewise delicious when paired with queso de bola and crackers

I assumed you could eat it raw, like an apple, but was told they have to be cooked to be edible. It was/is predominantly used in preserves, as its concentration of pectin makes it the perfect fruit to store for the long term in the form of jam, jelly, candy, and marmalade. The latter apparently “from the Portuguese word for quince, marmelo” also according to Ms. Schneider. But this last tidbit caught my attention, as I had always assumed that marmalade referred primarily to preserves made from citrus rinds… and hence what was supposed to be this quick post led from one thing to another in search of the root of the term “marmalade.” This seemed particularly appropriate as had just done the previous post with comments and references to kalamansi marmalade.

Alan Davidson’s wonderful book The Oxford Companion to Food seems to explain it well. And he credits the story of evolution from marmalada to marmalade, from predominantly quince to bitter oranges to C. Anne Wilson. Apparently marmalada was the portuguese name for the quince paste, which is a very firm jelly-like spread that could last for months on end… the texture arising from the naturally high pectin content of quince. It was such a prized delicacy that the British imported it in significant quantities in the late 1400’s. They continued to be refer to this as marmalada and later the english term “marmalade” through the 17th century. At about this time, a preserve made from citrus, more specifically oranges, became popular and were likewise called marmalades, as were thick concotions of other fruits that likewise could be sliced with a knife, so there were lots of types of marmalades until this point in time. In the 18th century, most likely in Scotland, the precursor of orange marmalade as we know it today became rather popular, and the term marmalade would from then on refer to predominantly citrus based, high-pectin preserves. Marmalade (particularly orange) soon became synonymous with a classic and rather uppercrust proper English breakfast, whether you were in your castle or a functionary at the small British outpost in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is this latter, and now classic use of the term marmalade that I refer to when I named my own kalamansi concoction a marmalade.

To make sure I didn’t miss anything else that might be of interest, I also quickly glanced through Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking (The Science and Lore of the Kitchen), and found this one tidbit for those who are interested in trivia… I quote: “The 16th century alchemist and confectioner Nostradamus gave several recipes for quince preserves… and observed that cooks who peel them (before cooking) don’t know why they do this, for the skin augments the odor.” I didn’t know Nostradamus was a confectioner! And finally, from the very modern book The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves by Linda Ziedrich, she says, of marmalades: “Jelly, usually soft and clear, in which are suspended pieces of fruit or citrus peel or both. Marmalade is often made entirely with citrus fruit. Because of the inclusion of the peel, citrus marmalades are usually bitter in flavor.”

In the rush to pack and get back home to Manila, I forgot to bring the quince fruit home with me… so I never got a chance to try and cook with it. The quince in the photo above rests on a fabulous silver tray, courtesy of Sister’s collection. :)



  1. bearhug0127 says:

    MM, this is fascinating.. .This is my first encounter with this fruit. It resembles an apple or a guava or a pear.. So how is it cooked and what does it taste like? Pardon my ignorance… And that tidbit about Nostradamus is quite interesting..

    Oct 23, 2009 | 3:51 pm


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  3. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    MM, are you serious?! Nostradamus was a confectioner…..Now I can brag that He and I share the same profession…hehehehe

    Oct 23, 2009 | 5:20 pm

  4. kitchen says:

    hahha, sayang naman you forgot the fruit, i hope you get to encounter quince once more.

    Oct 23, 2009 | 5:36 pm

  5. Kwan Hong Teoh says:

    Mmm braised quince and reduction on roast lamb with a thyme sage rub is pretty darned good. I am very happy to have found your blog. I was googling articles about Gil Carandang on suggestion of one of his colleges from the UCSC farm program and hallelujah! Organic foodie culture in the Philippines. I’m a consultant for a 40 ha vegetable farm up in Isabela. I want it make it sustainable using IPM and organic practices, but making costs match sales is pretty tricky.

    Oct 23, 2009 | 6:34 pm

  6. Lava Bien says:

    I strangely had some good guava jelly + cheese,sold by Cubans on the freeway believe or not then took them home to our host family in Havana then prepared by their beautiful mullata help, wow suprisingly good!

    Oct 23, 2009 | 8:33 pm

  7. sunflowii says:

    Hi Marketman,

    I grew quince not for its fruit but for its flower. It’s Chaenomeles japonica and is different from the one you have above.
    In my previous Ontario backyard, we had a small Japanese garden. Since we couldn’t put in a cherry tree, I went with a shrub that had flowers that reminded me of cherry blossoms. It did bear fruit but as they are very unpleasant to eat raw, we didn’t eat them. But the first time we saw Quince marmalade at the local Chinese supermarket, we did buy it out of curiosity. It wasn’t memorable.
    Here’s what else you could do with a flowering quince:

    Oct 23, 2009 | 11:12 pm

  8. Mom-Friday says:

    Thought it’s a green pear :D

    Oct 23, 2009 | 11:30 pm

  9. Doddie from Korea says:


    We get quinces here at a dime a dozen. I’ve never really tried cooking with it. Just harvested some on a tree in our apartment building and sent it to a friend who took it back to Saudi Arabia to cook with it (he was a Canadian married to a Korean).

    I wonder if it’s ok to mail you some? Think it’ll get past Phil. Post customs?


    Oct 24, 2009 | 12:13 am

  10. kurzhaar says:

    The true quince is in the genus Cydonia. Chaenomeles spp. are flowering quinces and considered more ornamentals than fruit producing although I’ve actually tried Chaenomeles fruit and they work OK…but not as good as true quince.

    There are a few varieties that allegedly can be eaten raw but they’re unusual and I have yet to encounter one outside of a book.

    But true quince is a JOY!!! Home-made membrillo or quince paste blows even the best Spanish imported commercial membrillo out of the water. I think the freshly made stuff is just incredibly aromatic compared to store-bought. Plus it is SO easy to make–there is no need to peel or core the fruit, in fact you shouldn’t as they add to the aromaticity and have a ton of pectin.

    You can put whole quinces in linen cupboards to scent linens.

    Oct 24, 2009 | 4:28 am

  11. sister says:

    Your solo quince is still in the fridge waiting for your return. A friend from CA who has a tree has promised me a boxful in return for some membrillo. She’s due in NYC next week with the quince so I’ll save some membrillo for you.
    In the middle east quince is often cooked with meat but I prefer the membrillo or poached quince when it turns a very pretty pink. I bet quince chutney would be good, too. I’ll have to try making some.
    Doddie, do not mail the quince as they will rot in a closed box.

    Oct 24, 2009 | 5:51 am

  12. Emily says:

    What a coincidence! I tried making quince jelly for the first time two weeks ago, when a friend gave away several bagsful (the tree in her yard had produced copious amounts of fruit this year). It does have a delicious, delicate flavor and a pale pink color.

    Oct 24, 2009 | 7:32 am

  13. Linda Ziedrich says:

    Hello, Marketman! Are you kidding about my book being modern? I think it’s thoroughly old-fashioned. And the quince section is one of the longest. I am harvesting quinces now, and both the orchard and the guest bedroom where I store fresh fruit are filled with their heavenly perfume.

    Oct 24, 2009 | 10:10 am

  14. Rob says:

    Hi Marketman!
    FYI, membrillo is the name of the fruit in Spanish. The paste/jelly is known as dulce de membrillo (Spain) or cajeta de membrillo (Mexico), and yes it is wonderful with queso manchego.

    Oct 24, 2009 | 11:16 am

  15. Marketman says:

    Rob, thanks, I have learned yet another thing today! Doddie, thanks for the offer, but I suspect the local post will not take well to an aromatic package. Linda, what a pleasant surprise… and yes, modern relative to the Nostradamus and early Scottich marmalade references. But I love your book, and would love to try more and more recipes from it. If you haven’t tried a kalamansi marmalade, and you live in the U.S.(?), I would be happy to mail you a bottle if I manage to get them through U.S. customs when I go to New York in the months ahead… just email me where… then perhaps it will make it into your next wonderful book. :)

    Oct 24, 2009 | 2:44 pm

  16. Mari says:

    Quince…aaahhh that fragrant fruit…I happen to hear about this when I was watching Lidia’s Italy TV series and to my surprise found it in my local grocery store. Lidia made it as a side for her roast. I was dying to try it and finally found a chance to make it last Thanksgiving as a side for the Turkey…had it cooked with cranberries and it was a big hit. I found a recipe as a tarte tatin…instead of apples they used quince, so I have yet to try that… it’s that time of the year again, I have seen it in my grocery and looking forward to buying it and cooking it again. I hope that you will be able to get a hold of it again MM and whip up something that will keep us all craving for…

    Oct 25, 2009 | 7:53 am

  17. consol says:

    Dear Marketman, I recall that ‘nonsense’ Edward Lear poem “The Owl and the Pussycat” where these two animals ran off and got married, and in the end, tis said they “dined on mince and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon.” So this is how quince appears. Hmmm I thought it was a cousin of the pear. Intriguing that it has that aroma.

    As usual, thanks for sharing.

    Oct 26, 2009 | 6:19 am

  18. pinkytab says:

    My friend’s mom from Morocco invited me to dinner one time and served beef with quince. She said it was just beef that was slow cooked with sliced quince. It was so good so I tried it at home and it turned pretty good. I used a regular pot but I think the authentic way of cooking this in a tagine.

    Oct 26, 2009 | 9:44 am

  19. Lilibeth says:

    Thank you for this post Marketman. The comments just got me searching for more quince recipes and I think I will be trying out the Quince Tart Tatin of David Lebovitz and Poached Pear and Quince Frangipane Tartelettes from Tartelette blog and more membrillo, of course. Quinces went on sale last week 2lbs/$1 and now it’s back to $0.79/lb, still not bad.

    Oct 28, 2009 | 9:48 am

  20. Nuebo Ubing says:

    In Oaxaca state in southern Mexico the quince is pickled with smoked chilies, garlic, brown sugar, oregano, and pineapple vinegar. It is cooked a bit before being added to the vinegar mixture and is usually eaten with crusty bread called piedrazos which are also dipped into the vinegar. It is very good- the quince is a bit crunchy still and is tart, sweet, smokey, and spicy all at once. I have made this a few times. Amazing blog

    Dec 10, 2009 | 4:18 pm


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